Biological Soil Crust Microsites Are the Main Contributor to Soil Respiration in a Semiarid Ecosystem

Andrea P. Castillo-Monroy, Fernando T. Maestre, Ana Rey, Santiago Soliveres, Pablo García-Palacios

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are a key biotic component of dryland ecosystems worldwide. However, most studies carried out to date on carbon (C) fluxes in these ecosystems, such as soil respiration, have neglected them. We conducted a 3.5-year field experiment to evaluate the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of soil respiration in a semiarid Stipa tenacissima steppe and to assess the contribution of BSC-dominated areas to the annual soil respiration of the whole ecosystem. We selected the six most frequent microsites in the study area: Stipa tussocks (ST), Retama sphaerocarpa shrubs (RS), and open areas with very low (<5% BSC cover, BS), low, medium and high cover of well-developed BSCs. Soil respiration rates did not differ among BSC-dominated microsites but were significantly higher and lower than those found in BS and ST microsites, respectively. A model using soil temperature and soil moisture accounted for over 85% of the temporal variation in soil respiration throughout the studied period. Using this model, we estimated a range of 240.4-322.6 g C m-2 y-1 released by soil respiration at our study area. Vegetated (ST and RS) and BSC-dominated microsites accounted for 37 and 42% of this amount, respectively. Our results indicate that accounting for the spatial heterogeneity in soil respiration induced by BSCs is crucial to provide accurate estimations of this flux at the ecosystem level. They also highlight that BSC-dominated areas are the main contributor to the total C released by soil respiration and, therefore, must be considered when estimating C budgets in drylands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)835-847
Number of pages13
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • biological soil crusts
  • climate change
  • Q
  • Retama sphaerocarpa
  • semiarid
  • soil respiration
  • Stipa tenacissima

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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